I admit it, I'm a big fan of CrossFit, though I'm not doing it at the moment. I had a previous post about my training, though it seems to have disappeared.
I first heard about CrossFit on rowing forums. Rowing requires a huge amount of strength, fitness and endurance which is difficult to build up and maintain. It requires a large amount of cross training to include the arms, legs, back, core, speed and stamina. I had just finished my rowing season, but wanted something in the off season that I could do to keep in reasonable shape. So I followed the link to look at the official CrossFit website.
The things that stood out for me for this type of training:
1. It was made for those who needed high levels of functional fitness: the defense forces, police, firefighters, etc. This was a good sign to me that people who really needed fitness turned to this type of training, and stuck with it.
2. It was a 'minimalist' exercise, using functional movements and not requiring lots of specialised/expensive equipment. The workout of the day could be done almost anywhere using substitutions. I used my local park, and just bought myself a $5 skipping rope and stole a dumbell from my brother.
3. It focused on complete moves, so didn't build up individual muscles at the risk of weakening the the supporting stablisers etc. This was a big thing I had seen with machine weights, that overall functionality wasn't improved because the rest of the muscle groups weren't developed to the same level as the individually targeted muscles.
4. Everything was scalable, and the emphasis (on the website) was on keeping good form.
6. There was a wide variety of workouts. Some were of a seriously high intensity, but there were others which were slow but heavy weights, and others which were just a jog, etc. Some focused on time, some on number of reps, some on weight/distance.
5. It was damn impressive. I had always been told that girls could only do a few chin-ups, that was it. Then I saw these women doing 50.And if they could do it, why couldn't I?
So I tried the workouts myself at home, scaled as I could, and saw some serious improvement in strength. However, I then moved, started a new job, got distracted and didn't continue.
It was probably about a year later that I actually found a CrossFit gym near me. The owner was unassuming, but could just flick up and walk along on his hands, then bounce back. It was strength for the pure enjoyment of moving and working your body, not for puffing up your muscles to make walking difficult.
I only did it for about a month (again, for various reasons), but out of all the workouts and fitness activities I've tried, it is still my favourite. I felt I was building up real strength, and it gave me confidence to accept any challenge. Friends wanted to go rock-climbing? I knew I would have the arm strength to keep up. Going skiing? My quads and knees would be just fine.
So, why do I bring this up now?
Well, the Guardian released an article a few weeks ago questioning CrossFit. To be honest, the title was more contriversial than anything actually said in the article. However, it did raise questions about how safe the training was. So, I thought I would look at the two major questions raised.
1. "Some declare the inevitable machismo associated with workouts that leave
people floor-bound, sometimes vomiting, both ridiculous and unsafe."
Having been in rowing for a long time, let me just say that any workouts with boys usually leads to some of them competing until they throw up. I know of a boys school in Sydney that if you don't vomit during your trial erg, you don't get in because you weren't trying hard enough. So if you are looking for an activity without any machismo, go to an all girl gym.
Having said that, it's not just boys, it's the nature of some types of training. I have done work outs where I couldn't actually get myself off the erg after finishing, or couldn't get myself home because I was too weak to move.
Here is the youtube video of the time trials for the British rowing four. Every one of them can hardly move when they finish, and Sir Steve Redgrave passes out on the erg:
Any sport that needs to build endurance will require you to do at least one workout a week at this sort of level. Therefore, I don't think it is ridiculous, and it doesn't necessarily have to be unsafe.
Of course, it could be both these things, but the types of individuals that would push themselves and practice moves unsafely, would do the same in any sport or exercise. The issues are based on the individual doing it, not on the actual sport.
Not to be defensive, but 'overuse injuries' are common in every sport. Even just regular jogging can stuff up your joints. Every type of impact exercise, done regularly to a high level will leave you with joint problems. However, this can be minimised by being sensible, or maximised by being an idiot. For example take ballet. Even the ballerinas with perfect technique destroy their feet and joints, but they still think it is worth it. Many feel the same way about functional fitness, and the risk is much, much lower.
The second point about undertrained coaches is true... for every sport/exercise. I've watched gym instructors training people on rowing machines where I've just had to step in and say 'actually, if they do that, they will damage their backs.' No one should be training other people in something they don't know about. You always need to check out your instructors to make sure they know what they are doing, and you need to take responsibility that if it is hurting, you stop.
What do we learn from this?
Don't be an idiot.
Do maintain proper technique and remember to recover.
To get the highest levels of endurance fitness, you do need to push yourself in safe ways.
CrossFit - doesn't have to be the way for you, but functional fitness is necessary for better health later in life. (No using CrossFit issues as an excuse not to exercise!)
How to Tell You Are At A Good Cross-Fit gym?
So, I'm leaving it up to you to see if you are at a good CrossFit gym. The following 10 points can be associated with any personal training.
1. They take the time to teach you proper technique before each session.
2. The attitude of the participants - is there a culture of encouragement or aggression? If everyone seems like a jock, find yourself another gym with a good vibe.
3. They always check if you have any injuries and show you how to scale all workouts.
4. Group sizes should be small. This is technical work, and needs more supervision than a normal gym class.
5. The trainer corrects your movements as you do the workout, instead of just wondering off or doing his own thing.
6. They should always remind you to only go until technical failure (where you can no longer maintain proper form for the exercise), not muscular failure.
7. The workouts across the week should vary from high intensity to technical work.
8. They don't let you do something you are not strong enough or ready for.
9. Other participants are not missing because of injury.
10. Finally - take some responsibility for your own body. If it hurts, stop. If it doesn't feel right, ask for more guidance. If you've hurt yourself by being an idiot, don't blame CrossFit.
Now, all these things should be obvious at a CrossFit gym, can you say the same for your normal gym? Does anyone tell you if you are using a piece of equipment incorrectly? Does anyone show you how to use the new equipment? Just something to think about.
A few weeks ago I went to see the movie Man of Steel, and have to admit that while I try not to perv on topless men in general, Henry Cavill did an amazing job bulking up for that movie (though, pecs a bit big? Maybe? If there were to be just one criticism?)
So, naturally, being only interested in the workout details, and not at all to watch You Tube videos of Cavill, I spent sometime googling him. (Which, by the way, just brought up another example of why the google sidebar should automatically refresh and not keep the last thing you googled showing... my best friend gave me a few snickering glances. Thank you google.)
Now most of the fitness articles etc. point you towards Episode 4 Man of Steel of the Soldiers of Steel series on You Tube. After watching this for the 2:40 I found myself less interested in Henry Cavill, and more interested in the trainer Mark Twight, his company Gym Jones, and his philosophy.
By the way, in case you didn't know this is the same guy that trained
the boys for 300. You really do have to love his work. Especially if you
are a not-so-in-the-closet Gerard Butler fan... And, I have to admit that as a Classicist, Thermopylae was
always my favourite battle in history. It was like it was fate... or something.
Anyway... back to Soldiers of Steel.
Going back through the series, it's actually episode 1 I want to draw your attention to.
(Here it is if you haven't watched it. It's only 4 mins long.)
Twight begins talking about how he got involved in the training for Man of Steel, but goes onto how he works mainly with the Military.
At 1.45 he starts getting to the really interesting bit. He says that the first principle of training at Gym Jones is that the mind is primary, and that training the mind in the gym should bring about good values.
Being a gym-bunny should equal having good values? As a dedicated Christian, I'm all for the development of character, but also being a Melbournian, I've seen what the footballers are like and it doesn't seem a given that if you train hard you also are a better person.
Well, lets look at what he says.
Loyalty: you always do what you say you are going to do, you show up every day.
I'm not sure this exactly equates to loyalty, but someone who is dependable, who turns up even when it is hard, is more likely to stick by you when things don't look so good.
Duty: getting into the habit of always doing more than you are asked to do, and not trying to settle for less.
Once again, not sure this is my definition of duty, but it is definitely related to building a strong character. I think Jesus might have said this first: if someone asks you to walk one mile, walk two. (though, in a slightly different context, just to be clear. I don't want to fall into dodgy exegesis just in order to make a fitness point!).
Respect: starting with self respect which proves to others that you are worthy of their respect.
I have always unconsciously agreed with this. When internet dating, if I see someone overweight and out of shape, I'm just not interested. Not because of what they look like, but obviously they don't care about their own bodies and have no discipline over what they eat, and so I find it harder to respect them.
Selfless Service: working out with a partner, and making sure you give more to help them out.
This is a particular principle Gym Jones uses in their training, where one partner has to complete a task while the other one has to keep working out until they do (eg. one will have to go 500m on a rowing machine, while the other will have to hold weights until they finish). Twight argues that when someone else is suffering, you are more likely to go harder. I think this is a great training tool if there is a connection already between the people. So maybe something you want to look at incorporating into your partner workouts.
Honour: if you are telling the truth, it will be evident. You need to do what you say you are doing in terms of diet and training.
It is true that there is only so long you can lie about your training. If you say you can run 10km in 30 mins, it's going to be pretty obvious very quickly if you can't. It is also one field where you don't need to blow your own horn, your actions are the only thing that matter.
Integrity: when you are working out by yourself, do you maintain all these values?
It is easier to hold yourself to these standards if you are working out with a group. But do you push yourself as hard when you are just working out by yourself? No one would really know... well, not for a few weeks anyway. You need to show integrity to do what you said you will do when no one is holding you accountable, but you will reap the rewards.
Courage: training on a daily basis to the extent where you are confronting your fears and limits takes courage.
Some sessions are just going to hurt. There are no two ways around it. So do you skip those sessions, or try to take them easy? Or do you go in there knowing it is going to hurt but determined to do your best, because that takes courage.
Now I have always appreciated exercise and training for the self-discipline it instills and the character it can develop. But it had never really occurred to me about all these other values.
And to be honest, it's convicted me quite a bit. I (very) often don't do quite as much as I say I will do, or don't go as hard (in a hard session) as I could, because I tell myself that even getting out there is more than most people.
After watching the video, I'm beginning to wonder whether I am encouraging a bad character flaw of trying to justify my way out of work. If I say I'm going to do something, then I should do it if I want to be a woman of character. It might only be a training session, but if I can't make myself do that, what happens when it is something really difficult or painful?
Of course, a natural consequence of this is that I'm probably going to give myself lower targets to aim for at first, but that is probably better than setting higher targets and never meeting them. (Though, because I'm doing a set training plan for the half marathon, I don't have too much wiggle room.)
So I'm setting a challenge for all of you to use exercise to develop your strength of character and values. Do what you say you are going to do, because who you are as a person depends on it.
Do you want to be true Men and Women of Steel?
If so, in training:
- always turn up.
- do whatever you say you are going to do.
- give more, not less.
- confront your fears and get past them.
- be accountable and be honest.
It has been almost 2 months now that I've been doing the 5:2 Diet. While Jo has finished her stint on the 8 Hour Diet and isn't interested in following the book any further (though she is keeping some of the lessons she's learned), I'm continuing on with the 5:2 Diet just to see how it works out over a longer period (and because I like not feeling guilty the rest of the time).
Quick recap: 5:2 diet - you can eat anything you want 5 days a week, and only 1/4 of your calorie requirements for 2 non-consecutive days a week.
My enthusiasm about the diet has meant that most of my family has also been trying it out (I'll give you some of their results in another post). In talking with them, I've noticed that we have completely different fasting styles.
My aim when I fast is to get as much possible quantity of food for my 500 calories. I make huge stir fries, and have been known to eat a whole cauliflower mashed with spices (not highly recommended, better to have a bit more variety than that). It truly amazes me how many veggies you can actually eat for 500 calories.
My mother, on the other hand, is determined to eat as normally as possible while shaving away as many calories from sauces, oil, portion sizes etc.
On a regular fast day for me I'll skip breakfast, possibly have a cup of tea with no-fat milk for morning tea, a large bowl of porridge (sometimes 2/3 of a cup, more than I would normally) made with just water, cinnamon and if I need it a dash of brown sugar. For dinner I will then make up probably about half a kilo to a kilo of veggies sauteed in stock or cooked with a bit of soy sauce. (Did you know you can get 400gram bags of stir fry veggies from the supermarket which comes to a total of 120 calories?) I usually add some extra eggplant and maybe a bit of shredded chicken to give it more substance.
My mother on the other hand always has breakfast, which might be a small cooked potato or roast tomato with cooked mushrooms and spinach. For lunch she will have something like soup or salad, and then for dinner will try to get her meat and three veg including some carbs. For example dinner might be a small fillet of chicken cooked with lemon, a small potato, and then some cooked zucchini and mushrooms.
Now I'm trying to decide which is actually the better method. My way means you get to eat huge meals, and you also increase the actual fasting time as you start eating much later. However, my mother's way teaches you a better lesson about portion size and how you can actually be very happy on less food.
Which do you think would be better? If you have tried the 5:2 Diet, which type of dieter are you?
Well, Jo has been faithful to her word, and tested out the 8 Hour Diet. Here she gives her final review and advice based on what she has experienced through the experiment.
Having spent two weeks fruitlessly feeding my face in the daytime, then drinking litres of water to get me through the night, I was annoyed but not surprised to see I hadn’t lost any weight by following The 8 Hour Diet according to Zinczenko’s contradictory instructions to eat all I want, but stick to superfoods. Taken day by day, the scales fluctuated up and down as much as a kilo. But for me, that happens all the time, even though I always weigh myself at the same time.
I thoroughly fell off the bandwagon on the long weekend at the end of my two week trial. Events conspired – a going away party, some night shifts – with a general lack of will-power. Any weight-loss I’d managed was fast undone.
So, I’ve now ditched the book, and turned me attention to intermittent fasting, without the hype. In my initial research, some of the reviews of The 8 Hour Diet have been more useful than the book itself.
This three star review highlights the research that preceded The 8 Hour Diet (though these authors are ignored in the book). This reviewer recommends Brad Pilon’s “Eat, Stop, Eat” program, as well as Martin Berkhan’s leangains.com. The reviewer implies that you can get all the info you need online, without putting yourself through Zinczenko’s writing.
While I agree with the above, I also found an easy way to read the book – via this summary article, “8-hour diet lets you cheat and still lose up to 10lb in a week”, written by the man himself. Even though it’s written to spark people’s interest in his product, it gives the book’s core content.
Back to the reviewers on Amazon.com, another reviewer discusses her previous experience with a type of intermittent fasting. Even though her 5 star rating for the book makes me instantly suspicious, her experience is useful to hear. After many years doing a kind of intermittent fasting, she stopped when doctors and friends argued that she didn’t eat enough. This saw her stack on weight, so she went back to IF, and quickly saw improvement in her health and weight. She says the book helped her lose the last few kilos she wanted. “This book reminded me of everything I believe in about the body's need to rest and not constantly be working day and night to process food. It does not makes sense to eat around the clock, we have only had access to excess food a hundred years or so.”
More importantly for me, she highlighted reasons for why the diet fails for some people: “Many people here say the diet did not work for them so it may not work for everyone. Every body is different. I lost 10 lbs in one month and that's all I needed to lose. But I ate the 8 super-foods everyday and after filling up on them I didn't eat any junk. I also workout daily. I think giving it a try is worth it but you really do need to exercise and eat the 8 everyday in order to test it properly.” And there’s the crux. You do actually have to be sensible and ignore all the author’s hype.
This is also what makes me the most cranky about the diet. I followed it properly and I ate the 8 superfoods each day. Okay, I might have also added a block of chocolate – BUT that’s supposedly allowed. As is occasionally falling off the bandwagon…. The book emphasises how it’s a diet that you can adapt to fit your life, and even if you only follow it strictly for 3 days a week, you’ll still see results. I don’t think this is true – not for me, at least.
So, where do I go from here?
Research time. I found this article on IF by Joseph Mercola, helpful. This tip jumped out at me: “Remember it takes a few weeks, and you have to do it gradually, but once you succeed to switch to fat burning mode you be easily able to fast for 18 hours and not feel hungry. The “hunger” most people feel are actually cravings for sugar, and these will disappear, as if by magic, once you successfully shift over to burning fat instead.” (A word of advice: ignore the rest of the website this is posted on!)
The disappearance of cravings really surprised me, but this goes towards explaining it. I’ve always craved sugar, and have been worried even by the idea of giving it up, in the belief that the cravings will have me whimpering in the sweets aisle within hours of quitting them. It was quite exciting to be free of them so easily! And it gives me hope that if I feed myself properly, I can escape the Sugar Demon.
This is another thing that Dr Mercola highlights – nutrition. “I have been experimenting with different types of scheduled eating for the past two years and currently restrict my eating to a 6-7 hour window each day. While you’re not required to restrict the amount of food you eat when on this type of daily scheduled eating plan, I would caution against versions of intermittent fasting that gives you free reign to eat all the junk food you want when not fasting, as this seems awfully counterproductive [my emphasis].”
Yet how does Zinczenko sell his diet? “Watch the pounds disappear without watching what you eat!” It’s seriously worrying that such misinformation – nay, a downright lie – prefaces the whole book. Take away message?
As Mercola points out, “It typically takes several weeks to shift to fat burning mode, but once you do, your cravings for unhealthy foods and carbs will automatically disappear. This is because you’re now actually able to burn your stored fat and don’t have to rely on new fast-burning carbs for fuel.”
While I take anything I read online with a grain of salt, I am finding truth in what Mercola writes. I’m now almost four weeks in, and I’m starting to get better at ignoring my brain’s habit of thinking I can’t sleep without a recent feeding. I’m also learning the right amounts to feed myself to get me through the fasting period. I’ve ditched The 8 Hour Diet, but I am thankful for the useful information I’ve found in the process. It looks like there’s an increasing amount of research being done on this kind of dieting (Google it, you’ll see!), so it’s something I plan to watch, at the same time I watch the clock and improve the nutrition value of my meals. Thanks Jo! It has been quite a journey, and I'm glad it was you doing it! My next installment on the 5:2 Diet will be coming soon.
So it has been a while since I checked in about my half marathon training.
Last post I was up to week four, using Half Marathon Coach app as my program, and preparing for Run Melbourne in July.
Let me quickly detail what has happened since then.
First, I found out there was a better half marathon just a few weeks later in August, which instead of being with thousands of people in the middle of the city, was smaller and along a coastal road. Scenic is always good when you are going 21kms.
So I decided I would change my goal to that.
This might have resulted in me bludging for a week.
I then tried to get back into my training using the Half Marathon App. It was then I realised a few things I don't like about it:
1. It doesn't let you pause or restart. This means it keeps ticking over and whispering to you that you are getting even further and further behind, which is a guilt trip I don't need from my phone.
2. I wanted to change the date of my final race, but couldn't. So I ended up getting a whole new program, which was annoying because it started again at the low milage. Further, I then found out that it would give me only 2 weeks of the new program, and I would have to pay for the rest! Even though the original was free!
So, I got sick of it and did some research into other apps.
I have since downloaded the Runner's World app (which again is free).
Pros to the app:
- again it lets you put in your final race date and it works out a program towards that.
- it lets you choose 'maintenance', 'moderate', 'hard' and 'extra hard' levels of training which affects the number of sessions per week you have and how quickly the intensity and mileage increases.
- my biggest love comes from the fact that you put in your previous best race time for any standard distance (I put in my time for my most recent 10km) and in all of your training sessions it will give you an exact pace you should be aiming for. Looking at this, I've realised I was going a bit too hard for my 'easy' jogs previously.
- it also is more varied in its training, including tempo and speed work. This keeps the training a bit more interesting. I take whatever distractions I can get :D
- can't decide if it is actually a con, but you don't actually record what you do anywhere, so it doesn't show you how much you have achieved. Might be easy to just forget it is there if you didn't have your own motivation to keep doing it.
- It would be better if you could change the 'pace' for workouts to 'speed'. While there are calculators that do this for you on the internet, it would make it easier to use if it did it itself. (I work in speed rather than pace, being a long time treadmill user.)
Overall, at the moment I really like it. Though last week I really was sick, and so am just getting back into it now. Today I did my 11km long run on the treadmill as it was raining outside (and yes, I'm that soft.)
Last time I checked in for training, I realised my parents' scales were lying to me though they gave me a reading of 75.7.
Over the next few weeks of not training but definitely eating, my weight crept up to 77kgs again until I jumped on the 5:2 Diet. In the first two weeks of doing that, my weight dropped right back down to 74kgs. However, last week and a bit the loss hasn't been as good (which I knew when I started the program, the first two weeks give you the biggest loss.) My weight has been bouncing around quite a bit in unpredictable ways. I had gone down to 73.9, but then back up to 75.6, and lots of things in between. However, today I clocked in at a reasonable 74.5kgs (had hoped to be firmly in the 73s, but it was not to be). Conclusion:
The Sandy Point Half Marathon is on the 18th August, just over two months away. Plenty of time to increase my mileage and reach my goal weight of sub 70 kgs... if I'm good. Wish me luck!